Superintendent wants to keep working for Baltimore schools

December 07, 1990|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

With less than a year to go on his three-year contract, Baltimore's school superintendent has yet to be offered a new contract, but says he would like remain in charge of the city's schools.

"I have not been offered a contract at this point," said Richard C. Hunter, whose $125,000-a-year contract expires July 31. "I would certainly consider any offers, and I would like to remain in Baltimore."

Hunter's comments came after a city school board meeting last night, during which the board approved a "satisfactory" evaluation of his performance as superintendent in the 1989-1990 school year.

But the decision to rehire Hunter is a separate one, and ultimately rests with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has been critical of Hunter at times and has not decided whether to offer Hunter a new contract.

Asked about his intentions this week, Schmoke said only that "discussions are under way about Dr. Hunter's contract. Those discussions involve the superintendent, the school board and the mayor."

Schmoke would set no deadline for his decision.

Hunter would not respond directly to questions about whether he was trying to drum up support in the community.

"I have been consistently out in the community since I've been here," he said. "I have not stopped visiting people in the community."

Hunter said he is pleased by expressions of support he has received.

In a recent interview, Hunter noted that he has "gone through the ZTC most difficult time of being a new superintendent in Baltimore -- the first two years. I have a strong commitment to the young people and our community.

"Three years is not a sufficient time to do the job that has to be done fully. But I don't make the decision about whether or not I continue to serve the children as superintendent."

Hunter added that "people are looking for a person to come in and work a miracle." That expectation is typical of big-city school systems, he said, noting that 10 to 15 large school districts around the country are seeking new superintendents.

"But is it logical, is it reasonable, to think that Baltimore City is going to, in one year, compete with Baltimore County, with all of the differences that have existed?" he asked.

The city faces a number of social problems and lacks the wealth possessed by many suburban jurisdictions, he said.

"We do need more resources," he said. "There's no doubt about that." But if Baltimore schools are to compete with Montgomery County's, "it's going to have to be on some equal footing."

For example, he said, "We do not have the funds to buy computers. Our kids are going to have to know something about computers."

But the state's financial woes will make it hard to get new educational funding, he said. That's unfortunate, because "last year, we could have gotten the money."

Yet Hunter insisted that progress is being made, despite the funding needs. "I see a difference in the 2 1/2 -year period I've been here," he said. "Our schools are safer, our attendance is going up, all the indicators are positive."

Academic achievement is likely to advance more slowly, he cautioned, citing other changes that must take place first. Attendance remains a major concern. Despite some improvement in the past year, the city's logged an attendance rate of just 86.4 percent in the 1989-90 school year.

Hunter said that, for years, the system routinely recorded absent students as "present" in the last few weeks of school. That practice inflated the attendance rate and told students and parents attendance was not important, he said.

The practice since has been eliminated, along with the staggered opening dates for different grades. Other attendance problems may be more difficult to solve, he said.

"The nature of an urban population creates more difficulties with attendance," Hunter said. "It is not unusual for students to to have to stay home to take care of younger brothers or sisters."

In addition, he said, "Many of our students are involved in the juvenile justice system." And the situation is complicated by the city's high rate of teen-age pregnancy.

Hunter stressed that the school system would have to demand more from its own staff members.

"We've been trying to set some higher expectations for our staff," he said. "Last year, we demoted a couple of people . . . and it hasn't been done in many years."

Staff members must be held accountable for performance in the schools, Hunter said.

"In the final analysis it doesn't do any good to set goals . . . if in the final analysis somebody isn't held accountable," he said.

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